Why artist Viveek Sharma chose Mumbai and Vidya Balan as his muses

Artist Viveek Sharma poses next to his latest collection 'Silence, Please!' Photograph:( WION )

WION Web Team New Delhi, Delhi, India Jan 04, 2018, 10.37 AM (IST) Shomini Sen

For art connoisseurs in India, Viveek Sharma is a familiar name. In a career spanning little over two decades, the artist had made quite an impact in the art arena, with his work which is modern and relatable. Sharma has a degree in art from the prestigious J.J. School of Arts and has hosted art exhibition around the world -from Switzerland, Germany, France, to India and, most recently in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Sharma has also dabbled in acting and has featured in films like No Smoking, Asoka and Jhoom Barabar Jhoom.

For his work, he draws inspiration from daily life. Born and raised in Mumbai, the artist has taken inspiration from the city for many of his works. Sharma has also done an unique series called Reflections on actress Vidya Balan which the actress herself inaugurated.

Viveek spoke to WION about having Balan as his muse, art in present society and the importance of Indian artists globally. Here are the excerpts.

Q: Where do you see Indian art on the world map? Has it gained more prominence over the years?

A: Have you ever seen the huge piece of art, 'Cloud Gate' at Chicago Art Institute? It's popularity as a 'Bean' by Anish Kapoor a world-renowned name of fame, is that of an Indian. Indian Artist's might be slow in achieving that status, but surely many would make it up in the world scenario. There are quite a few names from the contemporary art scene who are making waves in the west. To do justice to all known and unknown to me, I shall prudently refrain from quoting their names. The fact that we are able to host a Biennial of International stature is evident that India is promising. 

Q: What inspired you to work on your new compilation 'Silence, Please'?

A: I am not only a part of, but I live and breathe this overwhelming landscape of Mumbai. It has always been a source of inspiration right from my early years. It all began subconsciously I believe. I used to reside in Chembur earlier, just off the Eastern Express highway. At first, things were smooth, I was oblivious to the background but then as time went by the constant noise became more and more apparent. It would disturb my every moment. I finally looked for and found a new apartment, one morning I woke to realise that I had chosen a location that overlooks a church, surrounded by greenery and away from the main road that mornings and evenings are a relief from the chaos of daily routines.

In fact, my east facing window was the main inspiration for the light source that is a signature in all my work.

Vidya Balan admiring her portrait created by Viveek Sharma. (WION)

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Q: You had Vidya Balan as one of your subjects once. Tell us more about that series? What was her reaction to your work?

A: Vidya Balan was the subject of my body of work titled Reflections in 2012. It was my tribute to Andy Warhol and the iconic Marilyn Monroe who was his muse. I substituted the original subject with Vidya, bringing in a culturally relevant subject. The technique of screen-printing was replaced by handmade multiplication using oils on canvas. The concept follows from substitution on the iconic actress, the contrasting time and place and the medium or technique used.

It all started in 2012 when I went to see her iconic film, The Dirty Picture. Watching her on screen and carrying herself in a sari that way, was so impressive. Vidya is a brilliant actress and really got into the skin of the character she portrayed - Silk Smitha and her life. I also felt that there were so many similarities between Marilyn and Smitha. Both of them enjoyed success so early in their careers. However, as the years went by, they didn't get the roles they wanted and both died very young in their mid-30s.

I did nine paintings of Vidya, in the same posture -- the one that became famous overnight from the film, but in different colours like red, green, brown, black and blue. When I finished the work, I showed it to the renowned columnist, author and art collector, Shobhaa De. So impressed was Shobhaa with the work that she asked me if I wanted Vidya to open the show! And that's how Vidya inaugurated my Exhibition.

Vidya is such a wonderful, humble and down to earth person. She was very appreciative of my work and was quite touched and seemed impressed with how I had captured her on canvas. The paintings have found buyers not just in India, but across the world!

Portraits of Vidya Balan created by artist Viveek Sharma. (WION)

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Q: What is that one quality that every artist should possess?

A: Based on my own experience over the last couple of decades, I share a simple piece of advice with all my young artists pursuing their dream in the art world -- never compromise on time dedicated to a piece of work - it reflects in the details.

Q: A lot of artwork is often scrutinized and criticised by society. Artists like MF Hussain have in the past received criticism for their work. You feel our society is still not open to out of box ideas? 

A: Nothing in nature changes, clouds, mountains, sunset, sunrise and so on. But, with the advancement in science and technology, a lot has been transformed. We still live in a world that is embroiled in controversies. Contradictions arising between traditional values and modernity is the strongest. “Nothing is more dangerous than a representational fallacy," says Herbert Read in his book on Philosophy of Modern Art. This is where the master painter had faced the controversial statements made as perceived by strong religious fundamentals. This has happened earlier when Artist's were victimized during Russian Revolution, French Revolution or even during German holocaust period where Artist's by force fled to other parts of the world and took asylum in countries where they felt safe.